This past Saturday, March 1st, Los Angeles Radical Reference held a workshop for library students at the Southern California Library for Social Studies & Research (SCL) on the top of community archives. Additionally, students had the opportunity to work with actual archival documents, something which is sorely lacking from curricula that tend to be theoretical. The response of gratification at being given the space to actually work with a finding aid, actually look at boxes, can't be overstated.
The workshop started with some basic archival definitions, along with introducing our workshop participants to some of the history of Radical Reference and the SCL (if you are interested in the details of where this library came from, you can read my paper that is at the bottom of this webpage in PDF form. Introducing the library was important, as it was no mistake that RR had our workshop there, as opposed to another institution. The SCL is committed to archiving the Left history of Los Angeles, and supporting the work of present day activists and organizers. By holding this history in an accessible space, people have a place to go to learn the political history of Los Angeles, and to know what work preceded us.
To see more of the collections held at the SCL, please go here at the Online Archive of California.
One of the resources we used at for the workshop was developed by the Lesbian & Gay Archives Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists: their introduction to community archives.
Discussion at the workshop deepened our understanding of the idea of what community archives can be, as opposed to the "special collections" of universities or other institutions. The comparison is important, because "special collections" may have a mission statement that calls for them to collect materials from the local community. Hopefully this list is helpful.
Some ideas thrown out on community archives:
-They will have a specific relationship/responsibility to a political/culturally-marginalized/oppressed group of people.
-They will be committed to social change for those groups, and supporting such political work.
-Encourages people to communicate on these political issues, in a culturally diverse environment, with a variety of materials.
-& similarly, encourages and values collective knowledge and exploration of ideas and materials, which is in opposition to the very competitive kind of environment that is normal to academia.
-Tools for searching (finding-aids or other materials) will be culturally relevant for the groups that are the target audience; the experiences of oppressed people will not be hidden by vague language or ignorance, and those creating searching tools will be expected to have the knowledge/capacity/humility to do this in a principled manner. This work can be done collectively as well.
The workshop facilitators hope to communicate with the SCL to actually find some materials that we might begin processing. Another goal is to have discussions with LA groups about preserving their own organizational papers.
Questions/comments on the workshop and the discussion on community archives are welcomed.